- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A man who was shot and paralyzed after he tipped off the FBI to the whereabouts of a suspect in more than a dozen murders in the District suffered a setback yesterday in his bid to show that authorities failed to protect his identity.

Charles Shuler, while cooperating with the FBI, told his FBI handler in 1999 that authorities could find Kevin Gray in Club 55, a strip club in Southeast. But, Shuler said, he also told authorities not to arrest Gray right away because he feared Gray would know he was cooperating.

Nonetheless, authorities arrested Gray immediately after Shuler’s tip. Weeks later, Shuler was shot and left for dead in what authorities said was a retaliatory shooting on Gray’s behalf.

Gray was eventually convicted in a record 19 murders in the District.

Shuler later sued the FBI, claiming authorities were negligent by effectively disclosing his status as an informant to Gray and later failing to protect him.

But U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina issued an opinion yesterday upholding his earlier dismissal of the case.

Judge Urbina said the FBI is entitled to “sovereign immunity” from Shuler’s claims, saying court filings in the case showed no explicit promise by the FBI to protect Shuler.

Neither Shuler nor his attorney could be reached for comment yesterday.

In an earlier ruling, Judge Urbina also said he agreed with government attorneys who argued the “decision when to arrest a violent and dangerous person who may kill again if not arrested immediately” is a discretionary choice.

“Permitting a lawsuit … risks clouding law-enforcement’s decision-making process with considerations well apart from the function society entrusts it to perform,” Judge Urbina wrote.

Transcripts in Gray’s case show authorities immediately suspected the drug kingpin was behind the Shuler shooting. The day after the Dec. 15, 1999, shooting, Gray was moved from the D.C. Jail to the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Va., about two hours away.

Gray’s cellmate at the jail was a northern New Jersey mob informant named Anthony Tabbita, who was moved to the jail out of fears he might be recognized in New Jersey or New York prisons. Tabbita later testified against Gray during a pretrial hearing, referring to Gray as “the John Gotti of Washington.”

Shuler testified he never saw the person who shot him, describing the hit man as dressed in a hooded jacket, hockey goalie’s mask and sweatbands. But the shooting happened just after Shuler said he saw Frank Howard, a Gray associate, and several other men.

Howard, after fleeing indictment to California, later turned government’s witness and testified against Gray; his partner, Rodney Moore; and more than a dozen others in the case.

Sentenced to eight years in prison, Howard told authorities the triggerman in the Shuler shooting was Keith McGill.

McGill was sentenced to life in prison in December. He denied any role in the shooting, saying Howard set him up. He is appealing the conviction.

During the sentencing for McGill and several other co-defendants, Shuler wrote a letter to Judge Royce C. Lamberth.

“I feel as if I am half a man,” he wrote. “I watch my back wherever I go.”

Gray and Moore were convicted in 2003 of murder, racketeering and other felony charges in what prosecutors called the “Murder Inc.” gang, which controlled crack-cocaine distribution throughout the District during the 1990s.

Gray and Moore were sentenced in 2005 to life in prison without the possibility of release, after a jury deadlocked on giving them the death penalty.

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